Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet
Doctor Who: The Satan Pit
(2 episodes, s02e08-09, 2006)

 

“I shall become the manifest.” Er, I mean, ah… welcome back!

The TARDIS reluctantly materializes in a tight room, and while the Doctor is concerned about the capsule, he and Rose laugh at the idea of going somewhere else. After all, since when have they ever cut and run from something unknowable? They explore the area, traversing a corridor to an large chamber. The Doctor identifies the station as a sanctuary base, and after Rose spots “Welcome to Hell” on the bulkhead, the Time Lord is puzzled by text that won’t translate with the TARDIS matrix. That means it’s really, impossibly old. They prepare to leave when they are cornered by tentacle-mouthed aliens holding glowing orbs, repeating a single phrase: “We must feed.”

Our travelers try to leave what looks like an alien buffet, but it turns out that the extraterrestrial speech technology is glitching. One of the aliens hits its orb and the message turns to one of hospitality. The Doctor and Rose don’t get any time to celebrate no longer being on the menu. The station’s human crew – surprised to see guests in their midst – arrives just in time for an emergency, and the travelers are escorted to a control center. The humans prepare the station for a series of impact tremors, still baffling the Doctor at every turn.

Oh, and the aliens? They’re called the Ood, and they are an empathic species who act as servants and laborers. They’re born and bred to be slaves.

After the tremors, introductions are made around the room before the Doctor and Rose are shown that the planet is in orbit of a black hole. That makes this location an impossible planet – ding, there’s the first title – since the laws of physics demand that they should all be dead. The black hole is K37 Gem 5, and the planet is known in scripture as Krop Tor. That same scripture references a demon in the depths of the planet, coincidentally located near a gravity funnel that’s keeping them all alive. The Doctor is stumped. Running some calculations – Time Lords invented black holes, after all – he determines that the gravity field would require a power source with an inverted self-extrapolating reflex of six to the power of six every six seconds.

Yes, you heard that right: Six, six, six.

Impossible and ominous.

And the humans are here to find it to help power their civilization.

Of course, the fact that the explorers were curious enough to plumb the planet’s depths really excites the Doctor. The feeling is short-lived when he finds out that the tremors collapsed several storage sections, sending them and the TARDIS into the depths of the planet.  The Doctor and Rose are trapped on the impossible planet, and the crew cannot spare the resources to rescue them.

The team goes back to work, but archaeologist Toby Zed begins to hear voices. The voices spread among the crew – “He is awake.” – and Rose hears some strange stuff from one of the Ood: The Beast will rise from the Pit to make war against God. Toby gets the worst of it as he is possessed by a mysterious presence that causes the old symbols to take up residence on his flesh.

As the power flickers, the crew and our traveling heroes watch as an entire solar system is consumed by the black hole. The crew moves about as Rose and the Doctor watch the maelstrom. Rose considers calling home, but her new superphone doesn’t get a signal here. The dynamic duo discusses their future without the TARDIS, and the Doctor reveals that he has failed Jackie by not being able to get Rose home.

Then the phone rings. A voice says, “He is awake.” Rose tosses the phone to the deck.

The Doctor and Rose rush to the Ood and ask Danny about their telepathic skills. While they are there, the Ood monitors go ballistic, and when Rose repeats the message – “He is awake.” – the Ood reply in harmony, “And you will worship him.”

Maintenance officer Scooti Manista visits Toby’s quarters to drop off a report, but she finds that the archaeologist has gone outside without a spacesuit. Moments later, Toby breaks the pressure glass and kills Scooti via explosive decompression. The breach rocks the base and the crew rushes to fight the casualty. More sections are lost but the base is saved. Scooti is found on the glass above the lounge, slowly drifting into the black, and a once-again normal Toby joins the remaining crew as the security chief Jefferson recites from Horatius by Thomas Babington Macaulay.

And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods.

The drill stops, presumably having reached the planet’s core, and the crew prepares to investigate. The Doctor tags along, convincing Captain Zachary Flane that he needs every bit of help he can get. Danny orders the Ood to stay put as the Doctor and Ida Scott dive into the depths. They emerge into a massive cavern filled with ancient sculptures. The power source is guarded by a large circular disk in the floor of the cavern, which the Doctor believes to be a trap door or a seal.

Oh, and the Ood are experiencing another spike in mental activity, a level which should immediately kill them.

The Doctor and Ida cannot translate the words on the disk, but Toby can. In fact, it’s written all over his face as he rises against the surface team. Communications are disrupted as Toby taunts Jefferson before the presence is transferred to the Ood, now identifying as the Legion of the Beast. The Ood recite demonic verses as they advance on the crew, killing one of the guards in the process. The rest of the crew run as the circular door opens and the planet is pushed out of orbit.

From the depths of the pit, laughter echoes as whatever lies beneath is finally free.

Jefferson orders his team to open fire on the Ood. Rose tries to contact the Doctor as the rest of the crew fights for their lives. Jefferson recommends “Strategy 9” and Zach agrees. Rose finally reaches the Doctor and the Time Lord reports that everything is now eerily quiet in the cavern. Ida ignores the order of Strategy 9 – opening all of the airlocks and purging the base – and asks the Doctor what to do. He ponders the temptation but ultimately decides to withdraw. As the team heads back to the lift, Rose saves Toby from execution, but something prevents the lift from returning.

Zachary addresses the presence as a representative of the Torchwood Archive, opening a dialogue with the being. The Doctor interrogates it, and it claims to be the evil in every faith in every civilization in every time. The Disciples of Light defeated it and chained it in the pit for all eternity. It addresses the Doctor as the “killer of his own kind,” and predicts that Rose will soon die in battle.

As the beast signs off in a jump scare, initiating a panic in the crew, the Doctor calms everyone’s fears. His motivational speech is interrupted as the lift’s cable snaps, destroying the car and trapping the exploratory team in the deep with only an hour of air. With the power outage, Strategy 9 is no longer an option. As the Ood cut through the door, Rose rallies the troops. Zach bypasses the rocket to provide temporary power and Danny develops a plan to disrupt the Ood telepathic signals. The downside is that the telepathic flare has to be broadcast from the Ood habitation monitor.

Rose and her team navigate the maintenance shafts as Zach follows them with an oxygen bubble. The Ood pursue them in a claustrophobic action sequence during which Jefferson is left behind. The security chief is given a merciful death on his own terms. The surviving humans have little time to grieve as they are immediately pursued by more Ood, forcing them to go up, but not before Toby secretly reveals his possession to their pursuers. They end up in the Ood habitat and Danny initiates the telepathic flare. The Ood fall to the deck.

Ida gathers the fallen cable for a descent into the pit. The Doctor volunteers to go as Ida remains above to support the cable, and the Time Lord descends into literal wall-to-wall darkness. As he muses with Ida on belief and metaphysics, the cable runs out. The Doctor takes a leap of faith and detaches the cable, falling the rest of the way to the bottom with an unfinished final statement for Rose on his lips.

Rose and Zack restore communication with Ida, but there is no other way to reach her before abandoning the base. Danny, Toby, and Zach start preparations to leave, but Rose elects to stay behind. Zach decides for her by knocking her out and ordering the team to the rocket. The rocket lifts off as Rose wakes up. She threatens Zack with the bolt gun, but the threat is empty. The ship rockets toward safety on Earth.

The Doctor wakes up on the pit floor with a shattered helmet. The walls are decorated with pictographs depicting a battle against the Beast, and the Doctor finds two jars in front of the creature itself chained in a deeper pit. The Doctor pieces together that the Beast’s intelligence has been transferred to someone else, leaving this shell behind. The Doctor considers destroying the prison, but that act would disable the gravity field and plunge the rocket into the black hole. That’s the trap: Killing the beast kills Rose.

But the Doctor has none of it. He believes in his companion, and thus shatters the jars. As the planet and the rocket plummet toward the black hole, the Beast emerges in Toby one more time. Rose picks up the bolt gun, breaks the cockpit window, and releases Toby into the abyss. The humans and the Ood accept their fate, but the Doctor finds hope in a perfectly positioned big blue box.

The Doctor rescues Ida Scott and the rocket, but he regrets not being able to save the Ood as well. Time Lord and companion are reunited, and the humans are sent along their way to Earth. He also tells all of the humans that he doesn’t know what it was that he found in the pit, but they defeated it, and that’s what matters.

As the survivors of Sanctuary Base 6 file their final report, including the humans and Ood who were lost, the travelers – “The stuff of legend.” – fly on to the next adventure.

 

When Doctor Who plays with mythology, it is always a bonus for me. But this story excels because of a pace that never relents. It is a horror story at its core, and the tension is palpable and almost smothering. Even the Doctor is off his game because he’s not the smartest guy in the room this time. In fact, our heroes very nearly get outsmarted by the enemy, and those kinds of stakes really make this story sing.

The big downside for me is the budding Rose/Doctor romance. I’m not adverse to the Doctor finding love, and the relationship with Rose has taken a very natural arc as they have grown closer and closer. But I feel that we have crossed a line at this point: Rose has lost the ability to function when the Doctor is not around or is in danger. She’s lost her independence and adaptability after leaving her relationship with Mickey, two key elements for a companion in the TARDIS, and it’s becoming annoying.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Love & Monsters

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.